The English Teacher’s Books

Five books I’ll never part with:

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. A teenage girl on a quest and an old man who once wrote a book. And the Holocaust is involved, too. I read it so fast that I truly digested it whole.

Half a Life by Darin Strauss. Half his life ago, he killed a girl. He’s spent the time since—while maturing and growing into a college student, husband, and ultimately father—dealing with the resulting guilt and shaping it into something he can live with. This is my mentor book.

Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life by Abigail Thomas. A memoir of bits and pieces, back and forth through time, one beautiful scene after the next that adds up to a masterpiece of one woman’s life. And somehow, I think we can all relate.

 Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow. I gave this book to my mom for Mother’s Day 2016 since she raised me on Little Golden Books. Three weeks later, she lost her fight against Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and passed away. Dad told me I should keep the book.

The Light Between Us: Stories from Heaven by Laura Lynne Jackson. A memoir about an English teacher who is also a psychic medium. She presents her life experiences and scientific research to help readers understand what she believes. And now I do, too.

Book I’ve faked reading:

Watership Down by Richard Adams and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: I co-teach a history/reading elective course, and the other teacher chose these books for our class. I tried…I really did…but blech. Also, almost anything written by Joseph Conrad (College summer class: studies in a major author. I had no idea it would be Conrad when I signed up. I passed the class with a ‘C,’ I think, by never missing a class while taking page upon page of notes as everyone else discussed.).

Book(s) I’m an evangelist for:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Yes, I know it’s horrifying and post-apocalyptic. And yes, I agree, it’s devastatingly sad—yet poetic. But it might be my favorite book of all time (and one of the only books to ever make me cry). I love this book so much, I must teach it, and for so many, many reasons. I dare anyone with a son or a father to read this and try not to get the feels.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The average teen today will tell you he doesn’t “get” this book, but then in discussion come to the conclusion that Holden Caulfield is, in fact, an average teen (of his time). Holden’s story gets a bad rap, because it’s a great one—and ultimately, I think we can all identify with him.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. When I first read this book in college, I knew that I had to teach it: amidst the ambiguity of a governess who might or might not be crazy, two children who may or may not be definitively evil, and ghosts of servants who may or may not be real, a delightfully haunting Victorian tale emerges. Unfortunately, I just can’t get students to agree.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. My senior English students were supposed to have this fairy tale/myth/legend/fable about Santiago, the shepherd boy, in search of his Personal Legend finished by yesterday. But most of them still aren’t done with it. I don’t get it, I really don’t. If I were six months from graduating and adulting was staring me in the face, I’d be cramming other people’s wisdom and advice as fast as I could. Or maybe I wouldn’t, now that I think about it. This book didn’t mean anything to me until I read it five years ago for the first time–because I wondered if I had found my Personal Legend. Sigh. The nature of youth and aging, right? Read this book if you haven’t, then get a hold of me.

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